Saturday, October 25, 2008


The light of a row of candles in a tray; a twist of fabric through the curtain rod, leading the eye in a parabola up to the ceiling and down again. I've never known a person so young who knew so much about making a place. I'm often a little wary when I get a young client: so often they won't trouble to make themselves comfortable. Low lights, warm room, empty bladder, phone ringers off, kids and animals settled -- older people will see to all those things. Younger people often won't. I've become a lot more assertive about the ordinary comforts. I don't have magic hands. I'm an ordinary massage therapist, and if you aren't comfortable, you're not going to call me back. But anyway -- no need for assertiveness tonight.

Marvelous tattoos. That's one thing I like about young clients. You never know what art work you're going to find.

The flesh firm and dense. It always takes a while to calibrate. What's hypertonic, in this body? What's the range? The fascia here is all tight, but I'm not sure what that means. I close my eyes and stop thinking about it. Let my hands think instead.

No grief, here. I've had a series of grief-stricken clients, and it's taken a bit of a toll. But there's a lot of happiness here. There's been grief, plenty of it, and recently; but she's flickering now like a trout in a sunny stream. I hope she's happily in love, or happily caught up in her work. It feels like that.

I hear things, when I do massage. Little moans of pleasure or worried intakes of breath. They're not real: that is, they're not real sounds that you could tape. It's some tactile or energetic information that my brain delivers to me by converting it into sounds. A sort of synesthesia, I suppose. When it first started happening I thought they were real sounds, and I'd try to listen more closely, and then they'd go away, of course.

Full of tenderness. I sit at the head of the table and work the masseters, the jaw muscles, with my fingers, and then I lay both thumbs beside the nose and drag down to the jawline. Those of us who feel obliged to smile at people all the time get jammed up there. I always love that particular move: it says this is for you, and you don't have to produce anything for me in return, not even a smile. Especially not a smile.

My hands come to rest, and I breathe, and listen for your breath through my fingertips. "Thank you so much," I say. Since I can't say "I love you, dear" to someone I met two hours ago.

I go off to the bathroom to wash my hands, and to give her time to get off the table and get dressed. Wait till I hear her moving around the room, and come out to pack up. Sheets, face cradle cover, pillowcase, and sweatband into the the laundry bag. I tip the table on its side. The face cradle itself comes into two pieces and fits inside the table. The table folds in half and buckles closed.

I love the paraphernalia of my work. I think you can tell what a person feels about their work by how they feel about its tools and apparatus. I remember being faintly annoyed, when I was a programmer, by the periodic bother of IBM replacing my work computer with a newer, faster, better one. For almost all practical purposes, one machine was as good as another for me, since I wasn't doing performance tuning or testing. But the people who loved programming were delighted with their new machines, petted them, took them for spins, tried this and that, chattered excitedly about how fast they could run a TPCH, speculated about changing the cache parameters. Me? "Seems to work fine," I'd say.

But I'm delighted that way with my table, my linens, my cushions and bolsters. Cleaning the table is never a chore for me, even though I do it before every massage; I delight in opening up the table, wiping it down, looking it over, oiling the lock-bolts. I even love doing the laundry and folding the sheets. I love them the same way I love looking over pens and notebooks and fine papers at the stationers.

The table is old, now. I bought it years ago, back when doing massage was an idle fantasy I knew I'd never pursue, when for years at a time I had the application papers for massage schools tucked away in my top drawer, a guilty secret, tucked under my socks. I'll need to replace it at some point. And I really need to get an adjustable face cradle. I have a certain reluctance for changing anything at all, right now, because I can't believe it's really true, that I really get to do this. I'm afraid if I change anything it will all vanish, that the dream will vanish and I'll wake up to another day stranded in an arid cubicle in the industrial burbs, looking wistfully out at the sky.

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